Published Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008 | 5:30 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008 | 11:30 p.m.
It’s the moment the near sell-out crowd of 14,272 has been waiting nearly three and a half hours for: Randy “The Natural" Couture vs. Brock Lesnar at UFC 91 inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Will Lesnar’s youth, size and freakish athleticism, trump Couture’s years of experience inside the cage?
Bettors in Las Vegas seem to think so as the challenger has been taking most of the action.
"We’re going to show Randy Couture’s he’s just too damn old to be here," said Lesnar in a taped interview.
The beast of a challenger comes out to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" to a mix of applause and boos.
Announcer Bruce Buffer stole the show stretching his neck and pretending to psyche himself up to Lesnar's walk-up music.
As has been the case all night, when Couture walked in to Aerosmith's "Back In The Saddle Again," the MGM crowd ignited.
"And now the moment of truth UFC fans around the world have been waiting for," Buffer screamed.
Lesnar was booed heavily during his introduction. No matter what's going on at the sports books in Las Vegas, this crowd is totally behind Couture.
Lesnar starts the action with a series of knees. A drowning cry of "Randy" fills the arena as both men back up to the fence in the clinch.
Couture lands a big blow after Lesnar misfires. Lesnar drives Couture back into the fence, but the crowd again starts its chant.
Lesnar slams Couture down and is on top of him, but Couture counters from the bottom.
A big leg sweep by Lesnar puts Couture back on the ground. Lesnar gets in a few body blows and then bigger shots to Couture's face.
The crowd erupts again as Couture gets back to his feet. Now it's Couture that tries to slam Lesnar, who has a 50-pound weight advantage on him, moments before the bell sounds.
The crowd clearly appreciates the early action as Lesnar wins the first round.
All three judges, Tony Weeks, Jeff Mullen, and Cecil Peoples scored the first round 10-9 in favor of Lesnar.
An exchange of blows starts the second stanza as Lesnar catches Couture with a shot. The crowd continues it's chants of "Randy," making the scene feel straight out of Rocky IV with Rocky up against the mighty Russian boxer, Ivan Drago. Seriously, Lesnar is Drago. They have the same haircut and both are human freaks of nature.
As if on cue, Rocky, er, Couture responds to the crowd's encouragement with a big punch. The two exchange again and Lesnar comes out of it with a cut above his right eye. It's the first time in his MMA career, he's been cut.
It doesn't seem to affect him though. If anything it might have made him mad. Moments later Lesnar delivers a hammer of a right hand and quickly pounces on Couture on the mat, finishing him off with a series of blows as referee Mario Yamasaki stops the bout at 3:07 in the second round. The victory gives Lesnar the heavyweight championship belt. UFC President Dana White leans in to Lesnar and jokes, "we'll have to get a bigger belt."
While Lesnar prepares to talk to host Joe Rogan, a skirmish in the seats has caught the crowd's attention. It appears that a couple of men are fighting with a female in the audience. In what may have been the best take down of the night a Las Vegas metro officer ran behind one of the men and choke slammed the individual straight to his back, forcing the raucous crowd to once again show their support.
Back to the action in the ring.
"It sounds really good. Can’t believe it. I want to thank Dana, UFC, and this guy, Randy Couture," said Lesnar, who pats Couture on the shoulder. "He’s got a lot of balls to take a year off and come back and fight a young buck like me."
Despite the loss, Couture clearly captured the MGM crowd's heart and once again received their applause as he took the mic.
"I don't think rust was an issue. He’s just a big guy, who caught me with a big shot," Couture said. "Big-ass ham hocks coming at you, it's hard to get out of the way. I want to thank all of Las Vegas for coming out here."
Fight Night Bonuses (11:30 p.m.)
Aaron Riley and Jorge Gurgel earned the "Fight of the Night," award as Riley recorded a unanimous decision. Each collected $60,000 for the effort.
So too did Jeremy Stephens for his "Knockout of the Night," when he floored Rafael dos Anjos with a wicked upper cut.
Dustin Hazelett scored his second career "Submission of the Night," after nearly ripping Tamdan McCrory's arm off in a tap-out victory.
Pay-per-view bouts (7:15 p.m.)
The lights went down, and Randy Couture popped up on the big screens hanging inside the MGM Grand Garden arena to the delight of the packed house.
A montage of video interviews with both Couture and Lesnar raised the excited crowd's spirits to a frenzied level. The two were also featured working out to 50-cent's song "Get Up." The rapper is also amongst those in attendance at the MGM.
"When I walk out into the arena, it's going to feel like home," Couture said, again bringing the crowd to its feet.
Lesnar appeared to a smattering of boos, saying: "I’m coming to beat Randy Couture and take my belt back to Minneapolis.
Perhaps the loudest cheers actually were reserved for neither fighter. The fans inside the arena erupted when legendary ring announcer Bruce Buffer lent his vocals: "We are liiive!"
A tired looking B.J. Penn was in the house. Perhaps an earlier press conference today wore him out, or maybe just his Vegas was showing. The TapouT boys, "Mask," "Punkass," and "Skyskrape" were also in the building.
British boxer Ricky Hatton, who will be fighting Paulie Malignaggi inside the same arena next Saturday night, wandered down to his ringside seats.
In between fights the monitors flashed Couture making his way inside the casino, accompanied by his wife, Kim. Moments later Lesnar popped up. As has been the case all evening, the crowed saved their applause.
Somebody in Sin City sure likes Lesnar though as the money continues to flow in on his side. The MGM-Mirage has him listed as a -135 favorite, while the Las Vegas Hilton pegged him at -145.
Anderson "The Spider" Silva just popped up on the video screens wearing what looked like a bright, pink sweatshirt. Huh? I guess when you're the baddest man on the planet, you can basically do whatever you want.
Wanderlei Silva just made his own cameo, getting a nice round of applause.
Kenny Florian vs. Joe Stevenson
Florian controlled the bout from the start, throwing a couple of right hands, landing a kick and a knee. Stevenson landed a shot and took Florian to the mat, but the Boston-based fighter popped right back up.
Florian again took control by slamming Stevenson and jumped on top reigning down blows. Luckily for Stevenson he was able to escape to his back. But that didn't last long as Florian applied a rear-naked choke and forced the tap at 4:04 in the first round.
“This is exactly what I wanted," said an excited Florian, who wasted no time directing his attention to light weight champion BJ Penn.
"I want BJ’s belt. You’re one of the best fighters out there, I want to test myself. I consider you a master, I think it’s time to kill that master," Florian continued.
A mixture of cheers and boos filled the arena. The cameras panned to Penn, who sat nearly straight-faced, offering only a smirk.
Dustin Hazelett vs. Tamdan McCrory
McCrory's nickname is the "Barn Cat," and for a while it looked like the 170-pounder might just have nine lives. Hazelett applied a wrenching arm bar that looked like he might just rip off McCrory's limb. Yet somehow, the Barn Cat, who came out after the opening bell with a flurry of blows that nearly dazed Hazelett, escaped.
Not the second time, though. Hazelett again gained control of his arm with a reverse arm-bar and applied even more pressure as he locked in his legs, forcing the tap at 3:59, somehow not breaking McCrory's right arm.
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Josh Hendricks
That was fast. It took almost as long for Gonzaga to give his prediction for the main event as it did to knock out Hendricks.
After getting locked up the clinch, Gonzaga gave himself just a bit of room with a knee. That's all he needed to wind up a big right that floored Hendricks. Another large right just for good measure ended things at 1:01 in the first.
"I want a title shot again. Next time I’m going to get the belt back," said Gonzaga, who said Lesnar has a good chance to win later tonight. "But I choose Randy."
The crowd sided with Gonzaga.
Nate Quarry vs. Demian Maia
Maia wasted little time in keeping his perfect record unblemished. Quarry took control briefly at the start of the match. Maia, a Brazilian submission specialist, mounted on top and looked as if he would initiate an early tap. It didn't happen, at least not then.
Quarry again briefly took control, but Maia reverse things and induced a rear-naked choke that forced the tap at 2:13 in the first.
"I never have strategy when I come into a fight. Stand-up, ground it doesn't matter," said Maia, who improved to 10-0 with the victory. All four of his UFC wins have ended with him at the hands of a choke hold.
Undercard bouts (5:30 p.m.)
A large crowd is already filling up the MGM Grand Garden Arena as the first fight between Matt Brown and Ryan Thomas kicks off UFC 91. The crowd's anticipation for the main event between Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar is apparent with occasional screams and cheers.
The reigning heavyweight champ Couture hasn't fought for 15 months, but says he's is great shape and prepared for Lesnar, who outweighs him by nearly 50 pounds.
“I’ve put together some new skills in the 15 months I’ve been off and I think you’re going to see some of that,” Couture said.
Lesnar, the former WWE sensation and favorite at Las Vegas sports books, said he knows a win tonight won't only give him the UFC's heavyweight championship, but also legitimacy as one of MMA's top stars.
"I’ve prepared very diligently to beat Randy Couture," Lesnar said. "I’m coming for nothing less than to take the title away tomorrow night.”
Jorge Gurgel vs. Aaron Riley
The matched was stopped just seconds in as Gurgel unintentionally got poked in the eyes. But when the fight resumed both men went full force, exchanging a flurry of punches and kicks.
It was like that for the entire three rounds, even down to the final seconds, with a bloody Riley scoring a 29-28 decision from all three judges.
“It's good to be back," RIley said. "He's a jiu-jitsu black belt, but everybody knows he loves to stand and bang. It makes it a good fight for everybody who likes to see a fight."
Jeremy Stephens vs. Rafael dos Anjos
This was another match that looked like it might go the distance. But Stephens quickly changed that when he landed a wicked upper cut that immediately dropped dos Anjos. Stephens rushed in with a couple of insurance blows to end things at the :39 mark.
"I've been working on that uppercut all week for (defense) of the shot," Stephens said. "I threw everything I had in that punch."
Alvin Robinson Vs. Mark Bocek
The two fighters exchanged a heavy mix of stand up and ground action in this exciting fight. Finally in the third round Bocek was able to gain control, wrapping Robinson into a rear-naked choke and forcing him to tap at 3:16 in the third round.
Matt Brown vs. Ryan Thomas
After a back and forth Round No. 1, Thomas tries to take momentum with a couple of kicks at the start of the second stanza. He misses, but is able to take Brown down. Brown quickly recovers and reverses the action, locking into an arm bar that forces Thomas to tap at :57 in the second round.